As I mentioned, things in Bellingham were going pretty well for me in 1998 and life was good. I had traded my TV and VCR for a broken down VW bus through a thing we did at 92.9 FM called Tradio… I got the bus running and outfitted it for an adventure. I moved out of my house, bought a ferry ticket to Alaska, and set out.
It was May and the journey up the inside passage was incredible. I’ll write about it sometime in the future. When I arrived in Juneau, my plan was to live in the bus, find a job, and learn everything I could about Alaska. My uncle owned a restaurant (The Hangar on the Wharf) in Juneau and I stopped by to say hello and see if he knew anyone hiring. I didn’t know him well, but he proved to be my favorite family member (besides my siblings) – no offense to anyone else in my family, but he was the first person I’d met in my family who actually seemed to get me.
He landed me a job working at his girlfriend’s knife shop. I found an amazing spot to set up camp out at Eagle Glacier but after about a week of freezing and a particularly terrifying night when I had a group of bears circling around my VW van. It was me and my dog Shakra at that point – she was blue heeler and timber wolf. Small but bold. She was a great frisby dog and a great friend. In any event, after that night, I realized I needed to rent an apartment.
I found a little place above the Alaskan Hotel (the only place you can drink an Alaskan with an Alaskan in the Alaskan). To pay for the apartment, I needed a second job so I got a bartending job at the top of the Mt. Roberts Tramway. About two weeks into that job, a bunch of movie people including the director John Sayles came into my bar. They were making a movie called ‘Limbo’ in Juneau and their craft services director had just quit. They liked me (because I’m a likable bartender) and offered me the job. The pay was better and the hours were longer and it was a chance to break into Hollywood. I’ve always been a storyteller and I dreamed about writing a screenplay and seeing it produced.
It was an amazing summer. I’ve had some great summers, but that one – truly mind blowing in terms of people, romance, fun, adventure – Juneau is a very special place. Maybe I should have stayed – but I didn’t. Alaska is a hard drinking place and some of the movie people I was working with – they were hard partiers – especially my good buddy and assistant Danny – and to be completely honest, I’d been suffering from PTSD and using alcohol to deal with it for years – I went off the rails in binge drinking. At the wrap party, I drank too much and ‘gave it back’ to the people who had been the worst to me on the set – if you’ve ever worked on a movie set, Craft Service is the bottom of the hill that shit rolls down – a couple of people, including John Sayles wife (a producer) and the 1st Assistant Director, had been absolutely awful to me. I got drunk and told them off. John Sayles is notorious for keeping the same people around him and inviting those who work well back to his next films. I was never invited.
For some reason, I sold my VW van, moved out of my apartment, and then caught the ferry back to Bellingham with my dog. When I got there – I found out that my grandmother had just died. She and I were very close. She had rescued us many times from our hellish childhood in Myrtle Creek. I was devastated. I didn’t know what to do. It was October and I booked a ticket to England with the idea of seeing the Isle of Skye in Scotland where her family had come from.
Juneau is the capital of Alaska. It is located in Southeast Alaska on the Alaska panhandle fronting the Gastineau Channel. Like, Honolulu, it is a state capital that connects to no other states by road. Juneau has about 31,000 residents and an abundance of natural and outdoor resources. They say that the quickest way to make a million dollars in Juneau is to start with 2-million. It’s an expensive place to live and relies on the industries of mining, fishing, oil, and government for its economy. Juneau is a major stop for cruise ships and the downtown is sometimes flooded with plastic bag poncho wearing tourists from the ships. It rains frequently in the warmer months and the days are long. Juneau is one of the only places I’ve ever been where I was drinking beer with friends on the beach in the sunshine and then realized it was 3 a.m. and the sun hadn’t yet gone down. Juneau is an amazing place filled with opportunity and a different kind of people that embody hard work, hard play, and doing things in their own way.